My fingers trembled slightly as I lifted my hand and let it hover centimetres from the door.
Why was this so hard? I'd never been afraid of teachers before. I never quaked in fear heading to Miss Tetslaff's class and she was about as horrifying as a teacher could be. What did Snape have that she didn't? Other than magic.
I sighed and tried to summon as much false confidence as I could. With one final look back into the empty corridor, I knocked.
The word seeped under the classroom door like a poisonous gas, choking me with unease as I forced myself turn the handle and push it open.
The classroom had changed since my last visit. Tables and chairs that were once uniformly lined across the floor were pressed up against the wall to leave a large space in the centre of the room. All shelves were shielded from view by large wooden slates I was sure hadn't been there before.
I jumped as the door slammed shut behind me, leaving a stern-looking Snape against the wall.
My face fell into a frown as his accusation sank in.
"Uh… pretty sure I'm not. It's one."
"Precisely. Meaning we should have already started, and yet he were are talking. In future, you will arrive at least five minutes before we are scheduled to begin, are we clear?" He raised an eyebrow in a way that almost seemed threatening.
I rolled my eyes before giving a sarcastic salute and a quick, "Yes, sir!"
Snape folded his arms slowly behind his back.
"Since you are not a student and I can neither deduct house points, nor give you detention, I'm adding half an hour to today's session."
"What?" I felt my face flush. "You can't do that!"
The corner of Snape's mouth twitched, almost amusedly.
"I have been given the authority to run these sessions as I see fit, and if you can't show me respect enough to show up on time, I am going to have to respond appropriately."
"Right. Makes sense. Or at least it would if I had been late. There is no way I'm serving some warped punishment for something I didn't even do!" I crossed my arms, daring him to challenge me. Not to sound like a child having a tantrum, but he wasn't being fair, and by the almost smirk on his face, he knew it.
"Ah, but if you don't, your lack of cooperation will have to be reported to the Ministry and I don't think any of us want that." The glint in his eye followed by the cruel twist of his lips crumbled my resolve somewhat. "Do we? Phantom."
I felt a snarl rise up in my throat but tried my best to subdue it. I wouldn't give him that satisfaction.
"Danny's fine," I bit, not liking the way his voice slid around my alias. "Just so you know, your whole 'sadistic, manipulative, unfeeling teacher' act is so clichéd, it actually hurts."
From the jolt in the professor's eyebrow, I couldn't tell if I'd angered or entertained him. I liked to imagine it was the first. Taking my insults as a sign of defeat, he finally pulled himself away from the wall.
"Shall we begin?"
I quickly realised the question was more of an announcement as he ignored me completely and glided over to his desk. My vision momentarily flashed green as I watched him slip open his top drawer and pull out a metal bowl. I'd met a lot of irritating people this past year, but this guy was definitely in my top five.
Striding over to the centre of the room, Snape laid the bowl on the floor and backed away before plucking his wand from within his robe. I watched wearily as he pointed the wand at the bowl and muttered a few unrecognisable words under his breath.
In an instant, a small flame spluttered to life in the bowl's centre. He took a step back, cool black eyes slithering to meet mine.
"Put it out."
I blinked. "Seriously?"
The man's head tilted sharply a fraction in confirmation. A small frown made its way onto my face before I shrugged it off. Whatever. If Snape wanted to waste time playing games, who was I to stop him? With a tired sigh, I made my way to the bowl and knelt beside it.
I gazed at the flame for a while, wondering if this was some sort of trick. Was it Snape's plan to attack me while I was distracted? What kind of experiment consisted of putting out the tiniest of flames?
Almost absent-mindedly, I blew it out. Or should I say, tried to blow it out. While the air from my lungs succeeded in reaching the fire, all it did was move it around the bowl.
Okay. Next plan.
I ran a hand through my hair as I tried to think of an alternative method. If I could help it, I didn't want to reveal any powers I hadn't already shared with the wizarding population. That meant the most obvious solution was out of the picture.
After a few seconds, I held out a palm. A small domed ecto-shield sprang to life around the flame, causing it to flicker slightly with the shift of oxygen. Gradually, I let the shield shrink, tightening it in the hopes of suffocating the smudge of red inside. The flame swirled, barely visible against the vibrant green of its prison. I couldn't help the smirk of triumph that crossed my face as the shield dropped to the size of an apple pip.
The next second, my hand shot to my shoulder as the shield erupted, scarlet bursting up through the ectoplasm and absorbing it with a loud pop.
"'Kay, that's new." I rubbed my palm with my thumb in an attempt to dispel my shock and watched in awe as the fire began to settle, larger and more vicious than before. So maybe this was more of a test than I thought. I glanced up at Snape. His expression hadn't changed but the slight backward tilt of his torso told me he was enjoying my surprise.
Determination washed over me as I refocused my attention on the task. Just because I was trying to hide my abilities, didn't mean I was willing to be defeated on the first hurdle. My eyes narrowed as I pointed a finger at my target. Without hesitation, I shot a large glob of ectoplasmic goop to blanket the bowl.
For a few seconds, nothing happened.
And then, the green began to dissolve. Rather than popping like the shield, the gloop fizzled. Sparks flew above the metal container and before long, flames rose up to encompass the entire bowl. At a glance it looked like someone had set their cereal alight.
Snape gave a low, judgemental hum, adding fuel to my already blazing frustration.
Not knowing what else to do, I reached out with one hand and pressed my fingertips against the side of the bowl, turning both the container and the miniature bonfire inside intangible. I don't know what I expected to happen. I guess I thought that without a physical form, the flame might just snuff itself out. Unfortunately for me, whatever this freak of nature was, it really didn't feel like dying.
I gasped, jumping up and away from the bowl as the ends of my gloves caught fire. Hissing from the searing pain, I shook my hand as fast as I could, instinctively trying to lose the growing flames. From the corner of my eye, I saw Snape adjust his robe, readying his wand for an eventual rescue. But the burning was too much, I couldn't wait. Turning desperately away from the professor, I let my ice powers take over. Still aware enough to keep the blue energy from glowing through my body, I focused the power into my hands. With a quick, icy blow the flame went out.
I let out an enormous sigh of relief, waiting for my eyes to turn green once more before spinning to face Snape. "Yeah, I think I'm calling this one a fail. Moving on?" The lopsided smile on my face did nothing to hide the slight hysteria in my voice.
I knew I'd made a mistake when Snape's gaze fell on my previously alight hand. His face was still entirely devoid of emotion but the way his eyes flickered upward into my face, I could sense that something was coming. A twitch of the wand and the flame from the bowl spilled out onto the stone floor below.
Like an animal freed from its cage, the fire spread, hungrily swallowing every speck of mud or dust that it could find to fuel its growth.
"What are you doing?" I yelped, rising into the air to put as much distance between the flame and myself as I could. In seconds it had grown to the size of a large dog, lighting Snape with an eerie scarlet glow. The man didn't flinch as it approached him like a lion stalking its prey.
"I told you to put it out. What are you waiting for? The whole school to burn down?"
Realisation hit me like an icy punch to the gut. He wasn't going to move. This was part of his twisted plan to test me. Even if I could bring myself to let him go up in flames, my chances of ever getting home would go up with him.
"You are seriously messed up!"
"And you are running out of time."
I growled, swooping around the fire as its sparks began to hit the ceiling. My brain stretched for any way to fix this without my ice powers but as the bonfire expanded I found that my thoughts were frozen into place. A flicker of flame caressed the air centimetres from Snape's oversized nose.
"Gah. This is stupid." I shot through the air to slam my shoulder into Snape's side, knocking him away from the approaching death. Being so close to the mass of heat made my eyes sting and I could feel tears forming as I looked back into the blaze. "Here goes nothing."
I called on my ice core. Not bothering to hold back this time, I felt the cold energy encompass my body. I raised both hands, coating them in blue light. Before I could think better of it, a steady stream of ice energy plunged into the fire. My attack continued as I moved higher into the air. In a heartbeat, I was circling the flames at high speed, a continuous beam of ice flowing from my palms.
The blaze swelled and hissed, causing a trickle of fear to find its way to my core. When I'd used the ice before, it had been on the flame had been minuscule. What if, with more power behind it, the ectoplasm-consuming fire somehow managed to absorb the blasts? The whole dungeon block could burn.
After a few seconds of dread, the blaze started to diminish. I took a deep, steadying breath as my ice subdued and eradicated any and all sparks of heat.
It didn't take long before the place looked more like a giant ice-cream cone than a classroom.
As soon as I was sure the fire wouldn't return with a vengeance, I dropped to the floor. Too tired to care about what Snape's dumb reaction would be, I fell onto my back, draping an arm over my eyes. Since getting my human half back, my energy levels in ghost form seemed to be on the fritz. I didn't know if it was lack of food for the past week and a bit, or the fact that I now had to change back every few hours, something that I'd stopped being used to. Whatever the reason, it took all my concentration to keep back the white rings.
It was only thanks to my enhanced hearing that I noticed Snape slipping to my side.
"Cryogenic abilities," he commented, voice barely above a whisper. "Impressive. Not outstanding, but we'll work on that."
I scoffed, pulling back my arm to stare at the ceiling. If I wasn't so royally ticked off I might have actually taken the compliment. I'd sat through one of Snape's classes – I didn't realise 'impressive' was in his vocabulary.
"You're psychotic," I grumbled, tone not as venomous as I'd intended. I couldn't tell if he was considering my declaration, or simply ignoring it as silence stretched between us.
"Up you get. I'm not done with you yet."
I glanced across to find him wearing the same blank expression he'd taunted me with earlier. It seemed somewhat less impressive positioned next to a giant lump of unsculpted ice that looked like a half melted snowman.
"Go figure." Sighing, I pulled myself up. As soon as I got my energy back, I could go back to being angry. For the time being… this was going to be a long hour and a half.
"I hate him." I formed a ball of ice and tossed it into the air above me. The silvery white orb seemed to glow against the late evening sky before being obliterated by an ectoblast. "He's a self-obsessed, piece of crud, sadist. How is he even allowed to be a teacher?"
The Blast-Ended Skrewt in the crate beside me let out a few sparks from its butt.
I sighed and let my head drop against the wall of Hagrid's hut. As much as I hated to admit it, Hogwarts had been growing on me – in the way an uncomfortably large mole grows on you and while you don't really like it, the longer it's there, the less you really mind. Take away the solitude, the constant fearing for my freedom, and the devastating homesickness, it was kinda fun. Or had been.
I destroyed another ice ball, unflinching as small shards scattered around me. To think that he would actually burn down his classroom and perhaps more, just to test me… to make sure I wasn't hiding anything…
Honestly, I couldn't tell if I was angry he'd played me, or I was sickened by the thought of what would have happened if I couldn't put out the flames. Compared to my ectoblasts, my ice powers were still fairly new. If he'd have pulled that trick five months ago…
"I should have just phased him out of there. Why am I such a…?" I pressed a wrist against my forehead, trapping a few pale strands of hair in place. For the hundredth time in just over a week, I wished I'd just ignored Skulker's gloating. I missed home. At least there I had Sam and Tucker to cheer me up. I'd have to do something insanely nice to treat them when I got back. If I got back.
"Get a grip, Fenton."
I jolted, whipping my head around as my enhanced hearing picked up the harsh whisper. My position at the back of the hut meant I was shielded from both the school and the path leading down to Hagrid's. I should have been safe, and yet standing agape amongst Hagrid's pumpkins were three very familiar Gryffindor students.
My stomach let out a sharp stab of dread. Before my brain registered what I was doing, I'd phased back through the wall.
I felt the panic before I understood why it was there. Despite not needing to breathe, I began hyperventilating. I pressed a hand against the wall I'd phased through to steady myself.
"Danny? You okay?" I spun to find Hagrid sitting at his table with a large mug of brown, swirling liquid. My head swirled with it. There was no way out of this. No way to bluff or lie, nowhere to run. I was found out and Hagrid was seconds away from realising it. With everything I'd already loaded onto him, would this be the one straw too many?
Before I could force my mouth to answer, a loud knock on the door drew his attention. Fang lifted his head from his bed to let out a howl of acknowledgement that turned my stomach.
"Now, who could that be?" the half-giant pondered, pulling himself up from his chair.
"No, Hagrid wait! There's something I need to-" My voice gave out on me as the knock sounded again.
"Hagrid? It's Hermione, can we please come in?"
"What're they doing out a' this time? If they get caugh'..." Hagrid pounded over to the door, frustration and concern shadowing his face.
"They saw me!" I blurted. Hagrid froze.
I swallowed the panic that threatened to burst from my throat. Not interacting with students. The golden rule. The biggest of the many things that had power over whether I stayed here, or got shipped off to my doom. As much as I trusted Hagrid, he was a teacher. What if this was it?
"I… I crashed in on them that first night – when I was running from McGonagall. We might have… talked a little. It was an accident, I swear. I got out of there as soon as I knew they wouldn't say anything, but..." I rubbed a nervous hand across the back of my head.
Another more urgent knock. This time it was Harry's voice that came through the door. Hagrid ignored it, staring at me with eyebrows lower than I'd ever seen them.
"Was that the on'y time?" he whispered. I couldn't read him and it worried me.
"Just now. Outside. Hagrid..."
Hagrid's gaze flitted around the room, honing in on the hammock and the contents of my backpack strewn across his armchair. He then proceeded to give me a long hard look before marching over to the bed.
"Clear that chair," he instructed, waving an arm toward said furniture. Eager to do something distracting, I shot forward and started shoving my laptop, mobile and pyjamas into the backpack on the floor. When I was sure I'd got everything, I turned to find that Hagrid had taken down the hammock and blankets and forced them into an overhead cupboard. Our eyes met just as the hammering on the door started up again. Fang let out a loud groan as if to complain about the continuous noise.
"Stand over in that corner and don' make a sound, yeh hear?"
I gave a sharp nod, slinging the backpack over my shoulder and floating to the far end of the room. As soon as I was in place, I allowed my invisibility to take over. Hagrid's eyes did one last scan of the cabin before he wrenched open the front door.
"What is it with you three an' wanderin' around at night?" Hagrid chided, standing aside as the three students rushed past him.
"We needed to talk to you. It's important," the bushy-haired witch announced, taking note of the way Hagrid peered outside. Confident that they hadn't been followed, Hagrid pulled the door closed. The sound of it clicking shut filled me with unease. That feeling wasn't helped by the way in which all three kids were eyeing up the room, searching for any sign of me.
"An' it couldn' wait till mornin'?"
"Hagrid," Harry started, halting for an unspoken conversation with his two friends, "We know about The Phantom."
My eyes widened in surprise. I didn't give a name when we met. They didn't get that from me, so how?
"The Phantom?" Hagrid hummed, walking thoughtfully to the kitchen counter and picking up a plate of muffins he'd made earlier. He offered them around, but wisely, the trio declined. "Sounds dramatic."
Ron let out a loud snort. "We heard it from Malfoy, what do you expect?"
Malfoy. That name was familiar.
"Draco knows?" Hagrid's calm appeared to falter momentarily and his eyes flicked over to where I was standing. Hermione picked up on it before he could tear his gaze back to Ron.
"His dad told him. He reckons half the school knows. He's likely exaggerating but..." Harry trailed off with a slow shrug.
"… word of your arrival will spread though the Ministry… those who work there will inform their children… the whole school will know..."
Dumbledore's words flooded my mind. He'd warned me about this and yet it was still a shock to the system. All my efforts in hiding… what was the point if everyone already knew I was here?
"The slightest conversation, the slightest sighting could mean the Ministry takes it upon themselves to withdraw you from our care."
My stomach performed yet another flip as Hermione began carefully advancing towards me.
"What exac'ly is it yeh think yeh know about this Phantom?" Hagrid probed, folding his colossal arms over his chest. Harry looked at Hermione for support, but she was far too busy staring at the wall behind me to notice.
"Well… We know the Ministry thinks he's dangerous and that Dumbledore's protecting him."
"And that Malfoy wants to find him so he can tell his dad and play hero," Ron rushed to add, scowling at the thought.
By this point, Hermione was only a metre from where I was standing. I took a silent step back, pushing my spine against the wall as I attempted to keep my anxiety at bay. I didn't know what to do. I would have moved further, but I was scared she'd feel it. I peered over at Hagrid hoping for some guidance but all his attention was on the boys. Hermione's eyes skimmed over mine, searching.
"An' what is it you would do if yeh found him?"
Despite the anxiety I felt about having Hermione inches away from my face, I couldn't help a concerned glance back at Hagrid. His voice had taken on the same hard, protective edge it had after I'd saved Blondy from that Skrewt, and when he'd found out about my half-ghost status. It was nice to have someone care but at the same time I couldn't help feeling guilty. Did I really deserve his hurt and anger on my behalf?
Hermione was the one who eventually spoke up.
"We'd tell him he needs to be careful," she stated, staring determinedly at the spot above my head so that I'd know her words were intended for me. "Malfoy's relentless. He's not going to give up on this and it sounds like he's not the only one. Phantom needs to keep his guard up and not glow like a beacon behind this cabin for anyone to spot."
I cringed. At least now I knew how they'd found me. Hagrid shot me a scolding look that everyone in the room, other than Hermione, caught.
"We'd also say that we're on his side," Harry cut in, "We trust Dumbledore and if he thinks The Phantom should stay here, then so do we."
"School's boring enough as it is. If he needs mates, we're here."
Harry shot Ron a bewildered look. From my brief encounters with these three, Ron had always seemed the least eager to have anything to do with me. Spotting his friend's expression, the red-head gave a quick shrug. "What? We are, aren't we? That's the vibe I was getting."
A small flicker of a smile danced on Hermione's face, hidden to all but me. She quickly regained her look of deep sincerity as her eyes lowered to my still-out-of-sight face. "No one deserves to be hunted for simply existing."
I chewed the bottom of my lip as my insides turned to jelly. This was not how I saw this going. These three didn't even know me and yet here they were, acting like my well-being was of vital importance to them. My gaze drifted to each of them. From what I could tell, there didn't seem to be a hint of malice in any of them.
I looked at Hagrid. His silence coupled with his pursed lips and the way his eyebrows were raised almost to his hairline suggested that he was waiting for something. Waiting for me?
A sudden dizziness took hold as I realised what his expression meant. Seriously? After all those warnings and threats of relocation coming at me from every direction? Was he honestly suggesting that I just… show myself? Literally any one of these people could go running off to report me as soon as I dropped my invisibility, Hagrid included. Could I really just trust them?
I turned my gaze back to Hermione. The cold determination and trickle of concern in her eyes made my head spin.
After what felt like an eternity, I sighed.
I let my invisibility fall.
AN: Holy cow! That was a hard one! And not just because of the computer problems setting me back a few months. CLIFFHANGER! I feel like I don't do enough of these. Probably because it would be cruel to just leave you guys hanging for months... or years... Who knows when chapter 14 will come into existence? *Maniacal, slightly depressed laughter*
Anywho. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has been reviewing/favouriting/following. Even if I'm absolute carp at responding, reading your comments always fills me with indescribable glee! Every email that I get, I'm looking out for the little bit of light that is someone responding to my writing. I don't know where I'd be without you guys! 3
Mushiness out of the way... Hope you enjoyed this longer chapter! Despite the fact that I lost like 400 words of the first part all those months ago, and along with it, my motivation - I feel recovered and overjoyed with how this turned out. Thank you so much for reading!
Till next time!